It’s sometime after the Age of Trump. A CME, or Coronel Massive Eruption had fried all the electrical circuits in the civilized world, with the exception of Canada (and Finland. Those two nations have grounded their electrical transformer systems. True story.) While the physical damage to the Earth is minimal, the social chaos that follows turns the civilization upside down. Canada is now THE major world power, and its soldiers are enforcing security along the Disunited States border to the south.
This story begins with one such soldier opening the door of shed in northern Minnesota. Little does she know she has opened the door on a world of new, and old, monsters.
Here’s a preview:
Jim chewed on his sandwich, then set it down on his messy consol. The surface of the sun on his monitor was as bland as an apricot, but there it was, right where it shouldn’t be—a spreading mold. The solar maximum was eight years past and sunspot activity had been, well, spotty. But this one, Number 486, was blooming to the size of Jupiter. If it should erupt, in the Earth’s path….
Jim turned to his laptop, typing in trajectories, velocities, dates. He stared at the screen, and then looked away. Like a shadow glimpsed in a darker shadow, maybe the bogey would disappear if you didn’t look straight at it. He turned back to his laptop—
November 4, 2003. Jim reached for his phone, his hand shaking.
“Hello, Martin? Rutherford here.”
“Yeah, Jim. What is it?” From the sounds in the background it was obvious that Martin was home with the kids, one of the perks of being middle management.
“Well, uh, I’ve run the numbers, and it looks like we’ve got a problem.”
There was a pause on the other end. “This something HR can handle?”
“Not unless HR has a hotline to God. The next CME, it’s going to hit us, full force.”
“What’s that again?”
“A Coronel Massive Eruption.”
“An X28, by my calculation.”
“Biggest one ever. Don’t have anything to compare it to, but a sunspot, that size, could take every electrical system on the planet. Not only that, but the electromagnetism could seriously corrode steel structures—pipelines, skyscrapers, you name it.”
“I get it. You recheck your numbers?”
“Yep, it’s a lead-pipe cinch.”
There was another pause on the line. And then Martin Davidson, a project manager for NASA, said, “Gordy, give Denny back his dinosaur!”
“What?” asked Jim.
“Sorry, talking to the boys.” Martin let out a big breath. “So I guess this goes up the line. I can tell you right now, Management ain’t going to like it. Not one bit, so you’d better be right, or it’s my ass.”
“Well, look on the bright side, after the November fourth, you can kiss your ass good-bye.” Jim put down the receiver. He had just hung up on his boss. And it felt good, real good. He looked at the fleck of pepper, growing like a canker on the face of the sun.
“Hurry up, baby. Let’s do this!”
Sunny swung her C7 in a slow arc. The dark shed looked empty, slats of sunlight falling through the weathered clapboard. She put down her assault rifle and was unbuttoning her pants when the phantom rose next to the wall. She snapped off the safety. Another one. She’d seen the stinking pile they’d shot on the highway—an elk, by all accounts. She aimed low, where the bag was hanging.
“Expose yourself!” she said, staring down the sights.
“Don’t shoot!” A cloaked figure rose from the corner. The blues eyes under the hood twinkled like icebergs in the sun. “Looks like you’re the one, doing all the exposing.”
Sunny was balancing the rifle in one hand, trying to button her pants with the other. “Leave off the humor, and also the hood!”
A hand reached up and slipped off the tattered hood, revealing a shock of gray hair, an old man underneath it. “You were almost showing up in my ‘ordnance expended’ report, and that is not the good thing,” Sunny said.
“I wouldn’t think so.” The man stood with his skinny arms raised. “You going to shoot me?”
Sunny lowered her rifle. “It is not looking likely.”
“In that case, I’d like to surrender. To whom do I have this rich honor?”
“The honor is all that of Corporal Sunita Kirpali Kaur, Second Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry. And yes, we are accepting prisoners, provided there is much intelligence.”
“Excellent. Much intelligence is my game. You talk kind of funny, by the way. You know that?”
“No comments of my English, please. I was not the one raised in this country.”
“I see. And that’s okay. I’m not a bigot or nothing. But those other buggers, from North Dakota? You in cahoots with them?”
“No, there is no cahooting. Those other buggers are serving under our command also. Are you the one doing the spying? It is illegal, you must understand.”
“Spying? I live here. Person has a right to know what’s going on in his own back yard, don’t you think?”
“It is not your back yard. It belongs to some others now.”
“Those pipeline bastards, you mean? We never gave them the right.”
“But rights were taken, nonetheless. Now, please, no maneuvers.” Sunny backed away. The man filled the doorway from his hair to the toes of his hunting boots.
“My, we are being the tall bugger!”
“They grow them big around here.” The man wrapped the brown cloak around himself as if the sunlight itself were giving a chill. A cloth bag hung from one shoulder. “Dad used to say it was because we stayed green so long.”
Sunny kept her rifle trained. “Any more silly buggers, in there?”
The man shrugged. “I look like a guy, has a lot of friends?”
Sunny lowered her rifle. “All right. But please be leaving your hands where I can see them. And what is that you are having, in that damn bag?”
“That’s my mide bag. Has all my charms—shells and shit.”
“These shells, of what caliber are they?”
“Seashells, I mean. Like magic?” The man rattled the bag.
Sunny took a sudden step backwards. “Please, do not do that. Now I have to make further inspections. There is less magic allowed in the Canadian Forces.”
“Doesn’t sound like much fun, these Forces of yours. But suit yourself.” The man loosed the tie on the top of the woven bag. Sunny glanced inside. It looked like a collection of stuff you’d dredge from the muck of a riverbed.
“I see. Much nonsense. Now open your robe.”
“You sure you’re ready for this?” The man unknotted the cord and opened his robe. He wasn’t wearing anything underneath. Sunny turned away. “That is enough inspecting for now, but the Lieutenant might have other notions.”
The man slapped his robe shut. “You didn’t mention any lieutenants.”
“There are always lieutenants.”
The man sighed. “I suppose. Wouldn’t have a cigarette, would you?”
Sunny groped her left breast pocket. She didn’t smoke, but the Lieutenant insisted that they carry cancer sticks for just such occasions—“hearts and lungs,” he called it. She handed the man the pack and a lighter and he took the rectangular box and slid the drawer open. “Such a person should not be the smoker.”
“Because of my age? What more damage could you do to this old bag of bones?” The man looked down at the pack. “Players. That Canadian shit. I was hoping for some of that good old Virginia tobacco.”
“No, there are no Virginias among us.”
The man smiled. “And not a lot of virgins, either, I would expect.”